Bronkhorstspruit Throws Spanner in the Works for NWM Ford Castrol Team
  • Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer ended fifth in Class FIA T1+ in their NWM Ford Castrol Ranger after driveshaft issues hampered their challenge for a podium finish in Bronkhorstspruit
  • Lance Woolridge and Elvéne Vonk have shifted their focus to testing and developing the T1+ NWM Ford Ranger for the remainder of the 2022 season, but were sidelined with identical driveshaft trouble
  • NWM Ford Ranger V8 privateers Christo Rose and Arno Olivier earned third place after faultless drive

The Neil Woolridge Motorsport Ford Castrol Team had high hopes coming into this weekend’s third round of the South African Rally-Raid Championship, having introduced several upgrades to its two Class FIA T1+ EcoBoost-powered Ford Rangers. Unfortunately, the weekend didn’t go to plan, as unexpected front CV joint issues on the front driveshafts plagued their challenge for honours at the #TeamHilux Bronkhorstspruit 400 race on 19 and 20 August 2022.

Nevertheless, the improved pace of the NWM Ranger was evident from the outset, with Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (277) leading the charge in Friday’s short 14km sprint qualifying session by posting the fastest time. This loop was ultimately cancelled due to navigation discrepancies amongst some of the competitors, meaning that their advantage was neutralised.

Friday’s 82km race loop thus became the opening stint for all crews, with Gareth and Boyd ending the day in third place after a slightly tentative outing, having narrowly missed rolling their vehicle in the earlier prologue. They finished 1 min 28 sec behind the leading Toyota of Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings, and a mere 35 sec adrift of the second Toyota of Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy.

With team-mates Lance Woolridge and Elvéne Vonk (234) effectively out of championship contention due to two consecutive non-finishes, the team has elected for them to test several high-mileage race components for the remainder of the 2022 season as part of the crucial development programme for the T1+ Ranger. Although they had good pace for most of the 82km Friday loop, they suffered a front CV joint failure at the 65km mark. They struggled to remove the damaged driveshaft, but eventually made their way back to the pits in two-wheel drive, relegating them to the back of the field.

The teams were greeted by icy conditions on Saturday morning, but the action was expected to be hot, fast and furious. The top three crews were evenly matched throughout most of the day’s first 160km loop, with Gareth and Boyd comfortably in third place until 10km from the end when their Ranger also encountered a CV joint issue. They limped back to the pits, losing 10 minutes in the process which dropped them back to 10th overall and fifth in Class FIA T1+.

The NWM technicians efficiently replaced both front driveshafts within the allocated 30-minute service interval, allowing Gareth and Boyd to fight back on the final 160km loop, which they completed without incident. They ultimately finished seventh overall and held onto fifth place in T1+.

“There were a lot more positives than negatives this weekend,” Gareth says. “We’ve made great progress since Upington with numerous upgrades on the Ranger, which have made it much better. This gave us the opportunity to really be in the fight for the lead on today’s first loop, but then we had the same CV joint issue that Lance had on Friday. We lost a lot of time there because the driveshaft also punctured the tyre. We had a clean run on the second lap, but it was difficult to make back time.

“Getting fifth place today isn’t ideal for our championship, but with the next two events both being double-headers it’s all still to play for. We just need to have a couple of good races without any issues,” he adds.

Lance and Elvéne had a tough task battling through the field in the intense dust, but their tenacity ultimately counted for little as a second CV joint failure – and the resulting damage caused by the driveshaft – halfway through loop two saw them retiring.

“We had good speed today, with Gareth and I third and fourth-fastest through the first two splits, just 14 seconds off the times posted by the two leading Toyotas,” Lance says. “It shows that the upgrades we’ve done on the T1+ Rangers have worked well. However, as is often the case in motor racing, when you fix one thing something else comes up. We have some time before the next race, so we’ll be hard at work sorting out the CV joint issue.”

NWM team principal Neil Woolridge echoed the sentiment. “This race was very frustrating, as we put in a huge effort after the Desert Race, staying in Upington and doing three days and around 2 000km of testing. We learnt a lot and implemented at least 10 fairly substantial upgrades on the Ranger.

“We showed this weekend that the changes moved us significantly forward, and our pace has been very competitive against our rivals which is very gratifying,” Neil says. “The niggly problem we’ve had with the driveshafts is very disappointing, though. Obviously, a change we made on the front suspension has created an unexpected but identical issue on both cars, so we will go back and figure out what the problem is and rectify it for the next race.”

NWM-supported privateers

Christo Rose and Arno Olivier (T58) were the only NWM-supported privateers competing in Class T in Bronkhorstspruit. They enjoyed a fault-free weekend in the V8-powered NWM Ford Ranger, keeping their championship challenge alive with a third-place finish.

The next event is the double-header Nampo race near Bothaville in the Free State on 30 September and 1 October 2022.